Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell
Stars: voices of Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connelly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, John Ratzenberger.
Brave is the second film to hit cinemas this week featuring a feisty stubborn heroine.
With its previous animated films, Pixar has set the bar high, so it was almost inevitable that they would fall short of expectations sooner or later. And unfortunately Brave is not quite up to the standards of the studio’s best output including Toy Story, The Incredibles and Wall.E. Storytelling has always been Pixar’s strong suit, along with its groundbreaking digital animation and production design.
While the animation is as brilliant as ever, Brave is let down by the story, which is rather conventional and lacks the sophisticated touches of their other films. And its moral messages about teenage rebellion, parents trusting in their children, children obeying their parents, and a warning about being careful what you wish for, are earnestly delivered.
The film is set in the Scottish highlands in the Middle Ages. Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) is the tomboyish daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connelly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). She is being forced into a marriage, and has to choose a suitor from three rival clans – the Mackintoshes, the Dingwalls, and the MacGuffins. But the strong willed and headstrong Merida would much rather shoot arrows and go hunting in the forest, which leads to arguments with her mother. Merida wants nothing more than to control her own fate, and has little time for the ladylike pursuits and royal duties.
After one heated argument, Merida storms out of the castle and rides off into the forest. There she spots a will o’ the wisp, and follows it to a cabin in the woods. There an old hag (voiced by Julie Walters) offers her a chance to follow her own dream and gives her a special potion that will change her mother and her ideas about marriage. But, as usual in these films, it comes at a price.
As a result of her wish, her mother is transformed – into a bear of all things. This has a special resonance, as Fergus lost a leg to a huge rampaging bear many years ago. It also leads to some wonderfully slapstick moments that will delight younger audiences. However, the fight scene between two bears may be a bit too scary for younger kids. Merida spends the rest of the film desperately trying to reverse the spell and reconcile with her mother.
Brave is the first Pixar film to feature a female protagonist, although there is enough humour and action to appeal to younger male audiences as well. Merida’s three mischievous little brothers also add some further touches of humour. Handy with a bow and arrow, Merida is a strong independent heroine along the lines of The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen. MacDonald (from Boardwalk Empire, etc) brings a strong feisty quality to her performance as the independent minded Merida.
Brave is also notable for being the first Pixar film directed by a woman, although the experiment didn’t end happily. Director Brenda Chapman (The Prince Of Egypt) was replaced during the production by Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell, which accounts for the uneven tone of the film. The animation is as detailed as usual, and the attention to detail is first class. The rugged Scottish highlands come alive. And Merida’s flaming red locks are also brilliantly animated. The film also comes in a 3D version, although the colours and visuals seem brighter and more vibrant in the traditional 2D format.
The strong vocal cast also includes Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger. Billy Connelly has fun and revels in the role of the gruff and boisterous Fergus.
Brave is reminiscent more of the bland output from Disney and Dreamworks rather than the excellent animated films from Pixar. During its cinema run, Brave is accompanied by the clever short animated film La Luna, a delightful little coming of age tale from Enrico Casarosa.